Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
Jesus said to His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13: 34-35
Oftentimes when I introduce myself as a Greek Orthodox priest, I get the response, “You are the people with the Greek Festival.” Many people have heard about our food, but they have not heard about our faith, and they certainly haven’t heard about our philanthropy. Perhaps that is because we haven’t made philanthropy a cornerstone of our parishes.
A popular Christian song says “They will know we are Christians by our love.” It doesn’t say they will know up by our food, or even by our words. As we wrap up these few reflections on evangelism, it is important to note that Christ told His disciples that people would recognize them if they have love for one another. He didn’t say that they would be known by their words, but by their actions.
If evangelism is spreading the Gospel, even Christ tells us that the best way to spread the Gospel is through acts of love. Therefore, each church community must have a good sense of philanthropy. It must bring in enough revenue not only to sustain its facilities and pay its staff and fund its ministries. It needs to bring in extra so that it can support causes outside of the community. Each member of the community needs to also give support that is not only adequate to keep the community going, but allows for financial support to be given outside of the community.
It’s important to support causes outside of our church community, including non-Orthodox causes. In the parish where I currently serve in Tampa, Florida, we partnered with LifePath Hospice many years ago. We began to give a percentage of our Greek Festival proceeds to LifePath. Several years after we started doing this, LifePath, on their own, started sending us volunteers to work at our festival. It is a great partnership. They get needed funds. We get needed help. Our people work side by side serving Greek food. And at other times of the year, they work side by side to help those who are about to pass on do so without pain and with dignity. As an added bonus, every time I go visit one of our people who is under hospice care, when I walk in the door, they say “Hey, you are from the church that has the great philanthropy,” which sure sounds a lot better than “you are from the church with the great food.”
A church is supposed to make a positive impact on the community in which it finds itself. In our community, we not only partner with LifePath Hospice. We work with Love, INC, a ministry that helps people who are homeless get on their feet. We support Metropolitan Ministries that provides food to the homeless. We also support Alpha House, a battered women’s shelter. We provide volunteer labor once a month for Matthew 25, a ministry at a local Presbyterian Church that serves hot breakfast to the homeless on a weekly basis. We also support Orthodox Charities like the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry (OCPM), and International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) which does disaster relief. Finally, we operate a food pantry out of our church hall, to give local people who are hungry food and toiletries.
We are slowly working our way to giving ten percent of our budget to charity. Currently we are at four percent. Our goal is go to up 0.5-1% a year until we hit ten percent. Why? Because it is important not only to support our own church, but to support causes outside of our church, in the greater Tampa Bay area where we are located. It is important to not only help Orthodox charities but to support charitable causes for organizations that will never join our church. And why is that? Because as Jesus says, they will know we are Christians not by our food, or our buildings, or our festivals, or our history. They will know we are Christians by our love. And love is something that is taken from someone and projected on someone else. Christian love, expressed through philanthropy, is taking our own resources and sending them to others that are totally unaffiliated with us, expecting nothing in return. That is service, that is love, that is what Christ taught us to do.
My heart overflows with a goodly theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. You are the fairest of the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever. Gird your sword upon your thigh, O mighty one, in your glory and majesty! In your majesty ride forth victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right; let your right hand teach you dread deeds! Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you. Your divine throne endures forever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity; you love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows; your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad; daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir. Hear, O daughter, consider, and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house; and the king will desire our beauty. Since He is your Lord, bow to Him; the people of Tyre will sue your favor with Gifts, the richest of the people with all kinds of wealth. The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes; in many-colored robes she is led to the king. Instead of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever. Psalm 45
I’d much our church be recognized for philanthropy than for food. If we each do our part in supporting our church so that it has sufficiency and to spare, we can change that reputation within our church communities, and well outside of them. Let’s work so that we can be known for our love, rather than our food.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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